Forced Marriage as a Form of Family Violence in Victoria

Principal Investigator: Dr Siru Tan

Project description

This will be the first study in Australia to examine a family violence framework and response to forced marriage. It will be undertaken in Victoria where in 2018, the Victorian Parliament, following recommendations from the Victorian Royal Commission into Family Violence, passed an amendment to Section 6 of the Family Violence Protection Act 2008 (Vic), to include forced marriage as a statutory example of family violence. This was an important development. However, there is a paucity of information about how affected persons are accessing supports, particularly formal support and criminal justice systems. This project will directly address the gap in current knowledge by generating new insights into forced marriage as an issue in Victoria, with a specific focus on current practices to support those seeking assistance.

This research will map the implementation of the inclusion of forced marriage as a statutory example of family violence, and involves working directly with family violence and forced marriage specialist services, to understand the service needs and responses to forced marriage in Victoria, and the direct engagement with formal support systems. Findings will be relevant to informing policy and response discussions on family violence and forced marriage responses in Victoria.

Research aims

The research has 3 key aims:

  1. Address the current knowledge gap surrounding the impact of forced marriage as a form of family violence.
  2. Document the views and experiences of specialist family violence and other service providers, community groups and victim/survivors regarding current responses to forced marriage to identify strengths and weaknesses in current responses, training and education needs and service gaps.
  3. Identify key learnings to share with state agencies focused on forced marriage and family violence to inform the development of best practice responses to forced marriage.

Background

Forced marriage sits at the nexus of a number of key areas of scholarship, policy and law and remains a pressing national and global issue. It is, however, not well understood in Australia and there remain significant gaps of knowledge pertaining to the efficacy and impact of the existing law, criminal justice and support service response. Since 2013, forced marriage has been a central pillar of the Commonwealth response to trafficking and slavery-like practices. The Commonwealth Criminal Code (1995) (Cth), criminalises forced marriage as a form of servitude, and the policing response and victim support program attached to the offences under s270.7A of this legislation have increasingly focused on forced marriage in their case load. There has been consistent research pointing to questions regarding the efficacy of this model, with strong calls within Australia, for forced marriage to be viewed as a specific form of family violence.

In 2018, the Victorian Family Violence Prevention Act 2008 passed an amendment to include forced marriage and dowry-related abuse as statutory examples of family violence. In March 2019 these new examples came into effect. This marks an important opportunity in shifting how forced marriage is conceptualised: as a form of family violence that disproportionately affects women and girls. Victoria remains the only Australian jurisdiction to have recognised forced marriage in this manner. This presents an important opportunity to examine the impact of the inclusion of forced marriage as a form of family violence. It will enable the examination of a different model to
frame and understand forced marriage, and the way in which systems designed to respond to family violence are prepared for engaging with this issue.

However, there is currently no publicly available information around subsequent resource investments in victim support processes, and questions remain about the implementation of this new legislation and the extent to which it meets the needs of persons coming forward to seek assistance and intervention for potential, threatened or formalised forced marriage/s. There are several studies and government commissioned reports that have been valuable in contributing to our understanding of the factors that contribute to
situations where young men and young women are threatened and coerced to marry, impacts of forced marriage and how it takes place. However, no empirical research has examined the impacts of the new legislation in Victoria including implications for family violence and other service responses by  practitioners and frontline service providers. This research will seek to explore the opportunity and shift that has followed the inclusion of forced marriage as an example of family violence, particularly in terms of engaging victim/survivors, members of community and service providers to support those seeking help. This will provide new and important evidence for consideration as Australia grapples with the implications of the Commonwealth slavery and trafficking response, compared to the more victim-centred, risk and trauma focused family violence response. The developments in Victoria provide an important setting to advance best practice responses to forced marriage.

Research design

Using qualitative interviews with family violence and forced marriage service providers and frontline practitioners, this project will map the implementation and enhance understandings of service needs and responses to forced marriage in Victoria.

The project will conduct and publish a national scoping review to identify the current state of knowledge of current support systems for forced marriage. It is further anticipated that findings from this research will be communicated through both public and academic outlets.

Funding acknowledgement

This project is funded via the State Government’s Victorian Higher Education State Investment Fund (VHESIF).


For further details about this research please contact project lead, Dr Siru Tan via email: siru.tan@monash.edu